I took my daughter to the Isles playoff game last night. It was a pretty good game, although the Isles lost because of the refs. There was some extra-classy behavior going on in the stands too.
They led off with the standard "history of the Isles" video clips, and included Dubie's poke check as the last historic moment. They also had a montage of clips from the late playoff run, which was prefaced with a prediction from ESPN that they would finish 30th out of 30, and the now-famous quote from Sam Rosen that the Isles were eliminated: "They can't make it."
Before the game, they announced a moment of silence for the shooting victims in Blacksburg. The crowd stood in respectful silence, but 20 seconds in it was pierced by a single drunken moron in or around Section 335 yelling "THE RANGERS SUCK COCK!"
After that laff-fest, a young lady came on to sing the National Anthem. She was wearing an Isles jersey. Halfway through the anthem, the scoreboard switched to a shot of the back of her jersey, where it said "Beat Buffalo." The crowd started to cheer and yell through the rest of the anthem. I may be the only one to feel this way, but I find it to be disrespectful to our country to cheer during the anthem. I've taught my kids to stand at attention, hands by their side or on their heart, facing the flag. After the singer says "...braaaave" you can start cheering. Whether they should be playing anthems at sporting events is another story (they don't play them at movies!), but as long as they are playing it you need to treat it with respect.
There was no scoring in the first period, even though the Isles had a slight edge in play. They hit the Buffalo goalie in the face twice with shots, and coach Lindy Ruff actually said they thought the Isles were headhunting. Here's the problem: if you could shoot that accurately, why not put it into the net instead of into the face?
After the period, the line for the men's room snaked all the way to Freeport. As one Buffalo fan said, "You're kidding me. There are only four cans in this place?" Playoff crowds are always nice in the Coliseum, because you get that nice "fire code violation" feeling when you try to wedge your way over to the pretzel stand.
The real action started in the second period, as Buffalo was awarded a goal despite no red light, no goal motion by the ref, and no replay that provided a view of the puck clearly over the line. We sat there for minute after minute as Toronto tried to figure out what had happened.
Bizarrely, the Coliseum didn't show any replays at all. During the wait, they showed bouncing Buffalo and New York pucks dancing around a Stanley Cup. Calling it a goal got the crowd ornery. It only got worse when the Isles drew six minutes of penalties on a single play. The call that put the Isles down 5-on-3 was just inexcusable. Buffalo scored on the two-man advantage, and that was that.
This gives us a chance to nutshell the problem with the league today. Campoli can bear-hug a Sabre in the crease and smash him down to the ground. That's OK. But when a player taps another player on the ankle while going for the puck, it's a penalty. It's not making the game faster or more exciting, it's just making it as random as an airport shoe check. It's a carnival.
And they only make diving calls when the other player gets a penalty too. If someone trips you and you draw attention to it, it's not the same as when someone doesn't touch you and you pretend you're shot. But I have NEVER seen a diving call made as the only penalty.
And the rule where defensemen try to clear the puck and it goes over the glass? A two-minute penalty for that is stupid.
And after the refs have physically obstructed players or deflected pucks about five times, you'd think they'd learn basic positioning.
Worst of all, this guy one row above us just wouldn't shut up. He had a nasal, Chris Russo voice, and EVERY time the Sabres got the puck in, he whined "Oh no!" EVERY DAMN TIME. Every time they passed to an open point man, he wimpered "Oh no!" Every time Buffalo got a takeaway and made it to center ice, he whinged "Oh no!" I think it was his first non-Strat-O-Matic game.
So anyway, the Islanders were outshot 17-2 in the third period but still had a chance in the end, down only one goal thanks to DiPietro's work in net. And then, in the last two minutes, they were called for a completely meaningless minor penalty. All hell broke loose. Plastic beer bottles went flying, along with water bottles and rally towels. (Or as Greg Logan put it in Newsday, "giveaway t-shirts." Newsday also showed a picture, on page A77, of Nystrom "beating Bernie Parent" to win the Cup in overtime. Yes, Bernie Parent.) People were waiting for the stuff to get cleaned up before throwing more crap on the ice. Someone hit a lineman with a bottle and people cheered. After the Isles couldn't score at the end, more debris got tossed on the ice.
Now normally, I love a good beer-soaked riot, but here's the problem with what happened. First of all, it's classless to throw things on the ice, drunk or not. The exception is when you throw hats on the ice to celebrate a three-goal game. Second of all, everyone cheered when soemone hit a lineman - he's not the one you're pissed at. Third of all, why are you throwing stuff from the 200s? You just ended up hitting other spectators. Fourth of all, you hit some Sabres - it's not their fault the refs boned the game. Show some sportsmanship and smear crap on the ref's car instead, willya?
As we were walking out of the Coliseum, I asked my daughter if she enjoyed her first drunken mob. She did, and so did her little fuzzy Islanders bear.